As parents, we hear it over and over again: Give your kids positive feedback. Let them know when they’ve made good choices, when you see their hard work pay off, when they’ve made you proud. Our children need to hear in no uncertain terms that they are seen, and get validation when they are doing a great job at navigating their world.
The thing that sometimes gets forgotten though, is that parents are just big kids, too.
Not long ago, my friend and our collective offspring went out for lunch. We ran a bit later than expected, and the kids were (in their words) nearly starving upon our arrival. Our group was quickly seated, but there must have been some confusion as to which server was covering our table, because the speedy service we typically got at this restaurant was nowhere to be seen.
But instead of whining or chasing down waitresses in the distance, the kids started up an old-school game a Telephone to pass the time, which never fails to cause some giggles and snorts. Eventually a server came, took our order, and we debated starting up our game again or doing the word search on the placemat.
Before we decided, an elderly woman stopped by. She stood between my friend and I, and told us both that we had some of the most well-behaved kids she’d ever seen. She had been sitting nearby, close enough to understand that our kids were way past the time when they wanted to eat, but not making a stink about it. We thanked her, but she wasn’t done yet. She then continued to lock eyes with me and my friend, telling us that we were clearly doing a good job mothering our kids for them to be this way.
Something might have gotten in my eye around this point. I blinked it away and thanked her again.
With a smile and a wave, she walked off. That’s when I turned to see each of the four kids sitting a little bit taller. They heard what this stranger had said about them, and it felt good to be complimented by someone with nothing at stake. It was motivation for these middle schoolers to keep up the impressive behavior. But that wasn’t all.
My friend and I looked at each other knowingly, and I bet I had the same flush of pride that I saw on her face. Because that grandmother’s words also served as motivation for us moms to keep doing what we were doing. They reminded us we were on the right track; that all the hard work had paid off; that we were all doing okay. Everything stopped for a beat, as each of us basked in how wonderful that felt.
The food soon arrived and the spell was broken — but it wasn’t forgotten.
When my kids were babies, there was a lot more positive feedback coming at us. To be honest, I struggled with having two babies in less than two years, so those compliments were more like lifelines thrown by people wanting to help keep me sane at a time when I felt like I was screwing it all up. I don’t remember many of them and my kids were too little to even know they happened. Now my kids are older, so when people compliment them, it sticks. And now that I’m slowly releasing them into the world, a compliment about my parenting somehow resonates more deeply, too.
This is why I’ve made a point to compliment both kids and their parents more often now. It’s a lot of work to raise kids (or be a kid) these days, and the world, as a whole, seems set to critique as default. It’s a small thing to decide to be a positive voice, but it makes a big impact. All you have to do is pay attention, and it won’t take long for you to witness something a kid has done or said that is good (they do it all the time, I promise).
Then tell the kids they’re doing okay — both generations of them. They just might end up in a spell like the one we had at the restaurant that day, and decide to do the same for other families, too. Heck, maybe if complimenting strangers like this caught on, a lot more of us could start feeling even better than okay.
That’s a world I’d sure like to see; and I think that’s something we could all agree on.More On